A few years ago my friend Doug offered to help me plant, care for, and eat from my garden.
“I’d love it,” I said, “but you might not eat much that way! Over 30 years of gardens, and I’ve never had a bumper crop of anything.”
“That’s OK, I just miss gardening.”
We went shopping for plants. “Let’s get some collards,” Doug suggested. So I bought a few. For him. I’d never even tasted them.
They grew, Doug harvested the leaves on a regular basis. In the fall I finally ate some. Why had I assumed they’d be bitter?! Collards, kale, dandelion leaves, they don’t all taste the same.
I liked the collards so much that I planted them again the following summer, though Doug was no longer working in the garden with me. That August I noticed an unused bag of manure in our backyard. I must have missed it in May. I dumped it into the middle of the garden and buried collard seeds an inch or two apart. They grew more quickly than anything else I’d ever tried to grow, large and healthy, planted only in manure. It’s the soil, stupid, 30 years of peat and manure, a bag here, a bag there, and it’s still clay.
The following spring the Victory Garden Initiative built a raised bed for me, which I filled with manure compost. My new garden with its all-new soil flourished, especially the collards. Last year our son-in-law built me two more raised beds. And of course I planted collards.
This past March I noticed that some of my collard plants had weathered the winter, and branches with tiny leaves had begun to sprout from the stems. Someone told me to pull them out and start with fresh plants. No! I couldn’t pull up plants that already had edible leaves. I kept my old collards and planted new ones.
And now it’s November, and we’ve been eating collard greens since March, from the new plants, and from the old, which bore small, tender leaves. I look forward to discovering whether or not my one surviving old plant (the others got mildewy) will weather another winter. And I’m trying to groom the new plants to last, picking leaves from the bottom up in the hope of more year-round collards, small, tender, delicate, delicious.